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Shadow Physicist?

  1. Jul 5, 2012 #1
    I know for most jobs it is recommended that you shadow someone of the profession you are interested in and I was wondering if this is possible with a physicist. Is it possible to shadow a physicist for a day in their workplace to see a first hand view of what they do in day to day life? (note: I have read extensively what theoretical vs experimentalists do each day but I would really like to see it first hand)

    I am interested in seeing either a physicist in academia or industry and wanted to know the practicality of wanting to shadow one.

    Thanks, Grant
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    You usually need to be at least a Master's student before an academic will let you follow them around. Enroll in a post-graduate program. But, mostly, if you cannot figure out what to do all by yourself you won't be considered much good. It's far more likely that you will be expected to learn the work by just doing it.
     
  4. Jul 5, 2012 #3
    Thanks Simon. My father is nervous about me majoring in physics (he wants me to do engineering due to the job outlook right now) so he wanted me to at least shadow an engineer (and a physicist if possible). I assume I would honestly just be in the way of a physicist since I'm enrolling in college this fall.

    Thanks for the quick reply -Grant
     
  5. Jul 5, 2012 #4

    eri

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    Sure, you can do that. Try contacting local colleges or universities and asking if anyone would let you tag along for the day. Or if there are local labs or government research agencies, you can try those, but many require a security clearance so you might not have as much luck there. I got a few shadowing requests this year as a professor.
     
  6. Jul 5, 2012 #5
    Thanks I will definitely look into that. That actually sounds exciting
     
  7. Jul 5, 2012 #6

    Nabeshin

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    Shadowing a full time professor, as an incoming freshman, seems to me a longshot. It would take up an incredible amount of time for the professor to explain everything he or she is doing to you, and likely you still wouldn't get the 'feel' of it.

    My suggestion would be to instead go visit a lab which has undergraduate researchers and talk to them. There's several reasons why I say this, 1) They're much closer to you in terms of academics, so you can have a more fluid conversation rather than just being lectured. 2) They're likely to be more willing to tell you what really goes on, rather than romanticizing things. For example, if they literally sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day doing x y and z, they won't hesitate to tell you about this (perhaps something you might not think happens if you talked to a professor). And finally 3) What they're doing is much more in your immediate future. Undergraduate research is not too dissimilar in form from graduate research, only in intensity and the leadership role you take in the project. But the actual process of research is similar, so you can get an idea about graduate work as well. Talking to a professor (could) give you an idea of what a job is like that you'll very likely never have. It would be like not knowing how to play basketball, and then shadowing a professional basketball player.

    Finally, I'd just like to say that while the job prospects for a physics major doing physics may not be the best, physics degree holders are rarely unemployed. There are hundreds of threads here about what kind of jobs are available outside of academia so I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that it's not like you will be homeless. In fact, those who don't make it into academia tend to make substantially more money than those who do.
     
  8. Jul 5, 2012 #7

    Simon Bridge

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    @eri: seriously?? And how did you respond to them?
     
  9. Jul 5, 2012 #8

    AlephZero

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    Judging from some of the replies here, you might get a better response from industry that from academia. At least in the UK, big companies are used to doing this.

    You shouldn't expect to undestand everything, and the person you are shadowing won't expect you to either (assuming they understand how shadowing is supposed to work). And it shouldn't be confined to one-on-one situations. For eaxmple "Shadowees" can learn a huge amount about how an organizations really works, by being a fly on the wall in a meeting. It works best when everybody just forgets there is a stranger in the room (and in an organization that is use to doing shadowing, that's what will happen). It doesn't matter that most of the details will go over your head. Remember you were smart enough to learn your native language just by listening to people talking way over your head when you were a baby. You can learn a lot the same way from shadowing.

    Presumably if you are shadowing a basketball player, then at least you want to work in a sports related job, though not necessarily either related to basketball, or as a professional athlete. At the most basic level, you will find out that professional basketball players don't spend all day playing basketball. And most physicists or engineers don't spend all day donig physics or engineering, either!
     
  10. Jul 5, 2012 #9

    Nabeshin

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    Perhaps you're right and I'm imagining too much of an in-depth kind of thing. I suppose you could get the flavor for going to meetings, lectures, etc. by shadowing, even if most of the content isn't understood. Coming from the more theoretical side, I'm just struggling to think of what I would get out of shadowing a professor and watching them scribble on notepads or write computer code all day.


    Maybe not the best analogy, although I completely agree that it's important to realize physicists don't spend all day doing physics.
     
  11. Jul 5, 2012 #10

    jtbell

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    Or write up lecture notes, or grade homework if he doesn't have a student assistant to do that for him.
     
  12. Jul 5, 2012 #11

    ZapperZ

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    I think there's plenty of things that are not clearly defined here.

    First of all, there is a difference between being a "physicist" versus being a physicist at an academic institution. Those two are not mutually inclusive, and one doesn't automatically imply the other.

    Observing a physicist who happens to be working at an academic institution means that you are observing not only a physicist, but also an academician. The latter is not unique to being a physicist, i.e. a biology, philosophy, english professor might have the same type of responsibility as well.

    Observing someone for a day doesn't really quite convey what that person does. A physics professor might have a large teaching load on the day you are observing him/her, and might do very little research work. Go another day, and he/she will be doing primarily research work and very little academic work. Observe me one day and I'll be sitting on my rear end in my office all day writing reports, preparing presentations, or dealing with safety issues and documentations. Observe me another day, and I'm doing engineering work at the experimental floor and you'd think I live there. Come again another day, and you'd think I'm an accelerator operator.

    When we give students opportunities to do internships, what we hope for is not just that the students get to work in a certain areas and learn some science, but we also hope that during that length of stay, the students get a flavor on what it takes to do science, how science is practiced, and what it looks like to be working in such a field. This can't be conveyed accurately in just a day, or even a week!

    Zz.
     
  13. Jul 5, 2012 #12
    I guess my question is would you still recommend me attempting to find a physicist (academia or industry) that would allow me to shadow them for a day? (unless I could find someone who would let me stay around for a week or more) I assume it would still be an educational experience and at the least it would give me an opportunity to meet someone that might be a useful contact later on.
     
  14. Jul 6, 2012 #13

    eri

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    Both of the students who emailed my dept were looking to walk around with someone for a day and get a feel for the job. I agreed to help one of them, who then never emailed me back (I really don't suggest being unprofessional like that) and I can't help the next, who is planning on visiting after I leave the department. Although it's true they wouldn't get to see me doing a lot of research unless one of my telescopes got some interesting data the night before. The rest of the time is spent doing class prep, grading, and teaching.
     
  15. Jul 6, 2012 #14
    Would the other professors in your department be willing to do the same? Or were you different in your willingness to accept shadows(shadowers?)?
     
  16. Jul 6, 2012 #15
    I don't think this is useful.

    1.) If you shadow a physicist in academia, 99% of the time its going to be grant writing and management.

    2.) If you shadow an experimental physicist in industry, they're going to be in some sort of engineering (probably testing or process engineering), so you might as well shadow an engineer in those areas.

    3.) If you shadow a theoretical physicist in industry, they'll be at a computer programming all day and they might not even be programming anything scientific.
     
  17. Jul 7, 2012 #16

    Simon Bridge

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    To be fair, I did get shadowed by a HS student for three days when I was a grad student ... at the request of my supervisor. chill_factor is right - it's going to be boring for any random set of days unless the person you are shadowing puts some effort into it (I was doing computer simulations and writing course materials). I took pity on him on the third day and crashed some actual research in progress for him to watch. I had tried to give him something to do but he didn't know enough to be useful outside the "chop wood, carry water" jobs.

    He did manage to take away the collaborative nature of science and the way you have to grow a thick skin though.
     
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